Writing a book follows a similar pattern: joyful exhuberation at the initial prospect followed by soul-crushing despair as the work becomes overwhelming.
It’s a little like digging out a buried city with a small shovel.
You get a small thrill with each precious, hard-won detail, but it isn’t enough to sustain the many empty days of difficult progress. Especially when you begin to sense just how much work lies buried beneath the surface and calculate how much time it’s going to take to finish everything up before you publish.
So here are 7 very important things to keep in mind when working your novel that might help you rekindle your enthusiasm.
1. This is normal.
I see tons of comments by new insecure writers when they first discover that writing is difficult. It started as fun and easy. It used to be pleasurable. They’ve written short stories. Everybody always told them they were a great writer. But now they find a book is just not as fun and easy as they had assumed; and doesn’t give them the same easy frivolous joy that writing short stories used to.
This is normal. There’s nothing wrong with you, or your book.
Finding the motivation to sustain long-term efforts is *always* a problem for the vast majority of writers, even those with experience. Negative feelings will sabotage your motivation if you let them, but only if your writing depends on a false positivity. Most new authors have more enthusiasm, because they have unrealistic expectations of their own greatness that have yet to be checked by marketing conditions. The more you write, the more critical you will become of your own work, and this is normal, too.
2. The soggy middle
Another thing that tends to happen when authors “run out of steam” is that they are mired somewhere in the middle of their story and they know it feels weak and flimsy. This is mostly due to the majority of plotting guides based on a 3-act structure, that don’t give enough structure for the middle sections. I tried to help with that by making a detailed 24 chapter outline, but even a simple 9 point plotdot can help you find the momentum in your story.
On a smaller level, you probably have a lot of great characters or background or scene descriptions, but maybe you don’t have much plot. Dramatic story thrives on conflict, so you need to lessen the information and focus on the conflict – this doesn’t just mean action scenes however. Intrigue is the absence of information, so you can create conflict simply by withholding your explanations or infodumps until much later, when they become relevant.
In my experience, those weak, filler scenes where nothing much seems to be happening, are actually the critical stages of a novel because they allow characters to develop relationships and have some low-stakes fun that demonstrates the world is worth saving. However, these scenes often feel insecure, empty and vapid in the first few rough drafts, and they only really start to shine in the very late editing stages when you know everything that happens and start beefing up the intrigue, conflict and subtle emotions. Even so, try to keep in mind that each scene should be building towards one thing that happens.
One change, one reveal, one thought, whisper, conversation, attack… something new and unexpected.
TLDR: you may lose enthusiasm because you feel like your story sucks, or don’t know what happens next. The solutions are: going back and using a plotting template to tighten your narrative threads; and/or adding in conflict and intrigue by making sure that something happens and you aren’t slowing down the momentum by giving away too much information. All (important) information needs to be withheld, fought for or sought out. It needs to resist attempts to capture it. Similarly, you can add conflict simply by setting a prohibition or conditions against whatever your characters are about to do next. Each next goal should include challenges or obstacles.
3. Editing woes
Another thing that is always more frustrating than it should be, is editing and revision. I tend to write 3000 words an hour, if I’m lucky… but I can only do that once per day and my brain is fried. Still, writing can seem fun and effortless, because you’re *in* the story in your head and seeing it play out.When you finish a rough draft, you will feel like celebrating – it’s so exciting to have finally finished! But then you realize, revisions are going to take a long time. I can do detailed line edits at about 3000 words an hour as well: so it takes as long to edit as it does to write. But that’s actually only one pass, and my books go through as many as seven rounds of editing before all the pieces start to line up.This slow progress can feel like a huge waste of time, when you just want to get the book out there. Especially if you have a deadline or you’re eager to start working on the next creative project (this why many authors skip around and never finish what they start.
This is easier, if you start with a strong outline, but only a little: and I know some pansters who can just write a great draft quickly and send it off to a proofreader and be done with it. You’ll probably find yourself somewhere in the middle. Plotting isn’t the only way to write a strong novel, but it can shave time off the revision process.
4. Writing habits and rituals
This is a huge topic, but motivation and discipline can be helped by familiarity. It takes at least 20 days (some people say) to form a habit. So if you’re attempting Nanowrimo, for example, you can’t expect to have 30 great writing days when most of the month is only about getting comfortable with the habit. I suggest you start in October and try only to establish a daily writing habit so you can actually write good material for Nanowrimo.
Find a time and a space. Set a timer and commit. Figure out how your brain works. For edits, I need my desktop, but for drafting/sprinting, I do better relaxed on the couch with netflix or youtube (music) in the background and a simple bluetooth keyboard and the AI writer app; or something like the travel writer or alphasmart (simple keyboards that only allow you to see a few lines at a time). You can even try closing your eyes. You want to get away from the editor, big picture brain, and vividly see the scene in your mind. Personally I can’t write it until I’ve seen it.
Also keep an eye on your diet and mood. You need a specific relaxed, creative focus – lots of coffee might not be the best thing, but maybe green tea or matcha instead. You can even reward yourself with fancy drinks or treats to honor your writing time.Try to find the emotion
This might change depending on the scene you’re writing, but try to find music or youtube videos that get you to feel the right feelings; happy, hopeful, tragic, sad etc. Sometimes a great piece of art is enough. I’ve been having a lot of fun with AI tools for character creation and scene design; because I can play around until I get a compelling image and that activity will leave me inspired and determined to write the story.
6. Realistic expectations
This one is tricky; a lot of my big-earning author friends are fans of “the secret” or positive manifestation – seeing yourself being rich and successful. And that can definitely work, to give you confidence and enthusiasm to keep doing the work.
But it’s also the reason a lot of authors fail: they depend on their positive thinking to the exclusion of their market or audience. In other words, they don’t consider their genre, the common cliches or tropes readers love and expect, and write something vaguely novel shaped that doesn’t read well.
Craft is a learnable skill, but only if you intend to get better – and objective quality depends on market reception. If you believe you’ll sell a million copies (magical thinking) and then can’t even sell a dozen to friends and family, the dissonance can be destroying to your confidence.
You do want to stay positive and think big, but you also want it to be grounded and realistic. I know that my novels are kind of good enough and fit well enough in the right genres; and I have hundreds of reviews that let me know readers are enjoying them. But that doesn’t mean they’ll sell well, without the right covers, blurb and marketing. Even having one perfect book isn’t enough, because you might not break even on adspend until you complete a whole series, boxset and audiobooks.
I’ve been writing fiction for six years without much success (sure I sold 100K+ copies but not much of that is actual profit) – but I’m also pretty confident things will escalate quickly once the work is done and I hone all my materials and can advertise profitably.
7. Practice in public
This one is a bit weird, since a lot of authors will tell you, don’t share too early or don’t listen to the marketplace. And it’s true you shouldn’t allow the will of the majority to dictate your creative expression… but it’s rewarding to share little pieces of success as you go along, to start building traction and test out ideas. That could be as simple as sharing AI art or characters you’ve made; short excerpts or teasers; early reviews or feedback; anything you’re excited about. Create or find a space you can share these things. But don’t get too hung up when you feel frustrated.
I believe most creative fear is based on two concerns:
Value (does anyone want this?)
Quality (is it good enough?)
The first you can alleviate with research, and by making sure not only the story premise is interesting to readers, but also that your book’s structure conforms to the core basics of storytelling (regardless of the genre, there’s a certain way to write books that keeps readers reading, and most authors don’t find it). The second, isn’t as important as you think on the surface. The writing quality as in the sentence structure or word choice, won’t actually make a huge difference in sales or reader enjoyment. Sure it should be clean, but the words don’t matter as much as you think they do. The story matters, and the structure of that story in a way that unfolds and keeps intrigue, so readers continue reading to find out what happens next.
So that’s it: seven simple tips to regain your enthusiasm. But I’ll leave you with a final tip: writing can be exhausting. It’s the most challenging thing I know how to do. I could work for twelve straight hours on something easier, but two hours of writing or editing and I’m brain dead. In other words, writing a book drains your brain-battery MUCH faster than anything else; sucking up your serotonin and other neurotransmitters can cause happiness and satisfaction. So it’s normal you will feel bad about yourself and your writing, just about all of the time. Make sure you give yourself at least equal time to rest and relax. Also, willpower is a finite, limited resource. If it takes you all day of procrastination and feels like a huge hurdle to just start working, you’re burning up all your energy on the wrong thing. This is where habits can really help. Once you form a habit or process, some of those things may become automatic.
For example: put on a certain feel-good song, light a scented candle, dim the lights, put on your lucky thinking cap, use a special dish for your snacks or a special mug for your coffee. Surround yourself with an armor of pleasant things you treasure, that make you feel good.
Find out more about Derek at https://www.creativindie.com/
You can see a video of this article here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xIyx9Ye8psk
Great tips for those who start to burn out on a project.
I enjoy editing but wow, what I wouldn't give to be able to write that many words an hour. It would take me six hours or more to hit three thousand.
Many new authors and writers aren't realistic and that reality check can zap their creativity.
I love the the acknowledgement of the 24 chapter outline. I've always tried to outline...like a for real outline. I can never do it. Instead, I would make character sketches, timelines, and chapter by chapter break downs. Then I'd worry that I didn't have an outline. I have outline validation. Thank you!
Hi Lee - such great advice from Derek - so much to learn along the creative writing journey ... cheers Hilary
Thanks for the tips. It's good to know losing enthusiasm after starting out really excited is normal. I'm glad to know there's nothing wrong with me when I feel that way.
I really enjoyed and learned from this, but, lol what happened to #5?
Thanks for the info.
I usually write about 1000 words an hour, but everyone goes at his/her own pace. Probably the most important thing to remember is that everyone is different and people have been successful in most any way possible. Whether you "pants" or "plot"; whether you use a computer, paper, or old-fashioned typewriter; or whether you take 10 days to write a book or 10 years--or however long it's been since GRR Martin's last book--writers get it done in all sorts of ways.
Derek always offers up some interesting tips for us. Glad he shared some here with the IWSG group.
Well said, Derek. Your tips are interesting and helpful. Thank you.
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